Christmas Tree Needle Drop

It’s that time of year when we think about whether to get a ‘real’ Christmas tree or whether to get the artificial one out of the loft to decorate.

One of the problems of real trees is needle drop.  First you have to decorate the tree without getting too many injuries from the sharp needles.  Then you have to face the task of collecting the fallen needles on the carpet as the tree slowly withers.

Scientists have looked into the problem of needle drop.

Researchers identified a plant hormone, ethylene responsible for needle loss in balsam fir. They made the discovery by placing fir branches in containers of water inside a growth chamber. After ten days the branches began to produce ethylene and three days later the needles began to drop. After 40 days, the branches were completely bare.

To test that the needle loss was in fact due to the ethylene, the researchers used two chemical compounds that interfere with this hormone: 1-MCP and AVG. After exposing the branches to one of these two products, the needle retention period rose to 73 and 87 days, respectively.


It should be possible to dissolve AVG in the water added to the tree stand, which would prolong the tree’s lifespan indoors.  Any Ethylene inhibitors should work.

There are other ways to prolong the life of your tree.

Choose your tree carefully.  Norway spruce (traditional choice but with a quick needle drop rate); Nordmann fir (dark green and expensive but also boasts of a slow needle drop); Noble fir (the king of Christmas trees and again holds a better track record of needle drop than the Norway spruce); Fraser fir (excellent needle-holding properties and a lovely pine fragrance to boot and resembles the Norway spruce).

Make a new cut on the stump when you first buy it or get it home, at least an inch above the previous cut. Put the tree in water immediately, and maintain the water level. Keep temperatures in your home slightly cooler, if possible, and position the tree away from the kitchen. Also, keep fruits away from the tree as they give off ethylene. Lastly, leave the lights on at night. Being left in the dark causes a tree to respire more, using up its carbohydrates. As a result, says Dr. Raj Lada of the Christmas Tree Research Center, “it can be starved to death.”

Above all else – decorate and enjoy – don’t eat all the chocolates on the tree before Christmas!

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Posted on December 5, 2014, in Useful Information. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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